The 79th Spengler Cup, the oldest international ice hockey club team tournament in the world, has kicked off in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
Sparta Prague, Team Canada, Eisbären Berlin and Metallurg Magnitogorsk will try to wrest the cup from the defending local champions.
The Spengler Cup – which remains one of the world's most famous club tournaments – has been an institution in Davos since local physician Carl Spengler donated the championship in 1923.
Every year, between Christmas and New Year, organisers invite three of Europe's top teams – as well as a selection of Canadian professionals – to compete head-to-head against HC Davos in the team's 8,000-seat stadium.
Prestige, as well as the cup's tight schedule, ensures competition is fierce.
Eleven games are played during the six-day competition – including a round-robin series in which each of the five teams plays each other once. The top two teams then face off in the final.
To win, teams must be consistent and recover fast from each clash – often after only an overnight break.
For hockey fans it's an opportunity to see some of the best teams on the continent up close. But the event is also a social occasion, bringing together people of all ages and all backgrounds.
The town of Davos also relies on the cup to provide a mid-winter financial boost – helping to fill the town's hotels and restaurants with visiting fans.
This year HC Davos will be trying to reach their sixth consecutive final and win the cup for the 14th time.
But they are going to have to do it without Joe Thornton, Rick Nash and Niklas Hagman – their 2004 stars who were unable to play in North America because of a labour dispute. They have now returned to the NHL.
What's more, the four other teams will do their best to ruin HC Davos's plans.
Sparta Prague want to avenge defeat in the final last year and Team Canada want to avenge being deprived of a third consecutive victory.
In addition, Eisbären Berlin and Metallurg Magnitogorsk – the best teams in Germany and Russia respectively –are both highly motivated to get their hands on the trophy.
Adding to the cup's allure is a history spanning more than three-quarters of a century.
During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, the Spengler Cup was dominated by teams from Eastern Europe.
It was only in the mid-1980s, when organisers formed a team of Canadian professionals playing in Europe under the banner of Team Canada Select, that a credible challenger to the Soviets emerged.
For the hosts, the cup has always been a tough gig to win. HC Davos went without a victory for 42 years, before finally breaking the drought in 2000.
swissinfo with agencies
The Spengler Cup takes place in Davos, canton Graubünden, every year between December 26-31.
This year is the 79th competition.
HC Davos are defending their title against Sparta Prague, Team Canada, Eisbären Berlin and Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Carl Spengler was born in Davos in 1860. He died in 1937.
Spengler was not only a scholar and doctor. He was also an ardent sportsman who sought to bring together athletes from the nations that had been enemies during the First World War.
In 1923 he established the Spengler Cup, an international ice hockey tournament that still takes place every year in Davos.
Special invitations were reserved for the best club teams from Germany and Austria. Both nations had been banned from official international ice hockey competitions following the First World War.
The inaugural match in 1923 was won by Oxford University.